Arctic Drilling Regulation Somehow Bad For Shell, Environmentalists, And Walruses

Amazing regulation is bad for Shell, walruses, and people, all at the same time.

on July 01, 2015 at 4:10 PM

Arctic drillingThe Obama administration and the Fish and Wildlife section of the Department of the Interior nixed a key feature in Shell’s exploratory Arctic drilling plan. Their solution was almost elegant in the way in which it managed to screw over every interested party in almost every possible way. Telling Shell to drill for crude up a baby seal’s ass with a spoon would have been just as practical and pleasing.

Shell has spent billions in its attempt to open up the Arctic waters north of Alaska for oil drilling. Many analysts think there could be as much oil up there as in the Gulf of Mexico. The area has been subjected to numerous regulations designed to protect the fragile ecosystem there, and address the fundamental dangers of drilling for oil on what is essentially Hoth. Shell has agreed to a short drilling season, where the activity might be the safest and least disruptive. And it has to send two rigs up there: that way if one breaks, they can quickly move the other one to plug up the hole.

Great. Again, Shell wants that oil and America doesn’t want pansy electric cars you have to plug into your iPhone charger. Shell’s plan was to have both rigs going at the same time. That way they can make the most efficient use of their drilling season, defray the costs of having a rig sitting around doing nothing, and, you know, explore for more oil.

But apparently Mother Earth has a “No Double Penetration” clause in her contract. There’s a rule that you can’t have two holes being drilled within 15 miles of each other at the same time, because it will f**k things up for the walruses or something. Shell had expected a variance from the Fish and Wildlife commission, but yesterday the agency decided that the rule is the rule and Shell couldn’t have both rigs running at the same time.

Now, if this sounds like a victory of the noble walrus, it’s not really. Because what walruses really hate are oil drills and people being all up in their habitat. If Shell can’t drill two holes at once, they’re just going to have to be up there longer, and that could be even worse for the wildlife than if Shell just got in and out of there. Shell’s initial suggestion is to just alternate which drill is working. Let’s say  you were supposed to have one crew renovate your kitchen and one crew renovate your bathroom: it would suck but you’d go to a hotel for three weeks and come back when it’s done. But imagine you came back after three weeks to find out that only one Property Brother showed up for the job (the good one that wears the hammer), and it was going to be three more weeks of not having a place to eat or pee? You’d be an angry walrus.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are pissed because they think the Fish and Wildlife decision should have just ended this entire drilling fiasco. From Fuel Fix:

The move disappointed environmentalists who last week insisted the 15-mile separation requirement should force the Interior Department to rescind a conditional approval it gave Shell’s broad Chukchi Sea exploration plan in May. When the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management conducted an environmental analysis of that exploration plan, it only scrutinized a two-well program with rigs running simultaneously and specifically eschewed analyzing the potential environmental impacts of Shell boring just one well at a time.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has prevented potentially harmful simultaneous drilling,” said Earthjustice staff attorney Erik Grafe. “But simultaneous drilling was a key assumption when Interior approved Shell’s exploration plan.”

That is a decent argument. This whole idea was predicated on Shell being able to hit it and quit it. Now it’s gonna have to do a leave-behind or something.

And we haven’t even brought up the issue that getting oil out of ice water is actually much harder than getting oil out of the Gulf of Mexico bathwater. We don’t even know if the two rig thing would work. That’s just a guess.

So, to recap: Shell is $7 billion in the hole, the Earth is getting drilled on both ends, and the walruses are going to have to fall asleep to the rhythmic sounds of alternating oil drills. And by the way, gas is still cheaper than freaking milk right now, so one might ask why we’re even doing this to ourselves.

They say the sign of a good compromise is when nobody is happy. But surely the sign of a bad policy is when nobody thinks it even makes sense.